MIERLE LADERMAN UKELES

 

PENETRATION AND TRANSPARENCY MORPHED, 2001—2002

with Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra

The years 1999 and 2002 were fateful years for Staten Island’s Fresh Kills Landfill, the world’s largest (it is said). It ended its 50 years of 24/7 work receiving NYC’s municipal garbage, as well as becoming the repository for the debris of the attacked World Trade Center in adherence to the secret never-imagined-to-be-used NYC disaster plan.  It is an incredible place of awesome scale, almost 3 Central Parks big, filled with 150 million tons of abject refusals of urban material, yet full of the promise of transformation into a safe environmental urban park. During these years, I proposed, produced and directed a video artwork about Fresh Kills called PENETRATION AND TRANSPARENCY MORPHED” made with videomakers Roberto Guerra and Kathy Brew.  It is a video installation artwork for 2 projectors and 4 monitors.  The 2 projectors show the stunning physicality of this post-industrial landscape in the midst of environmental closure, still inaccessible, yet beckoning the viewer to enter and wander via this video.  The big picture is countered with in-depth interactions on 4 monitors that feature 21 “Pathfinders”:  different experts involved in the very beginning of the work spanning many decades that will regenerate Fresh Kills.  They range from the director of landfill engineering and his infrastructure technicians to city planners, landscape theoreticians, cultural critics, ecologists, local officials, and many Staten Island residents of all ages.  It aims to address the future use of Fresh Kills’ 2200 acres in its multi-layered complexity.  As an artwork, what is this “Reconnaissance”?  Its essence is a nonlinear, purposely fragmented journey of learning which leads to multiple paths – the future for Fresh Kills is still open. Alas, in the background of many shots, you will see the World Trade Center.  It was always the key urban touchstone in this landscape. One “Pathfinder”, videotaped in August, 2001, points to the World Trade Center and asks:  Is this [Fresh Kills] an annex to that [World Trade Center]?  Is that [World Trade Center] an annex to this [Fresh Kills]?  This video artwork is the public outreach centerpiece of my “Phase I Reconnaissance” as Percent for Art Artist of Fresh Kills commissioned by the NYC Departments of Cultural Affairs and Sanitation.  I continue to work on this commission to design public art elements of Fresh Kills and to contribute to the Fresh Kills Master Plan (now in process) as a member of the design team. 

.Bio

Ever since she wrote the Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969, and inspired by the philosophy of the new “Comprehensive Plan of NYC” of that time, that divided up the city’s mission into two systems: development and maintenance, she has created public works that collide the boundaries of these two systems together.  She views these systems as the embodiment of opposing human drives of freedom and necessity.  Her works, in multiple mediums, always seek to test, provoke, expand and even explode these boundaries:  always asking “Is this work necessary?”  and then, “What does this work do to one’s freedom?”

She is “madly in love” with the public domain and public culture and sees it as “The area where everyone, truly everyone, can be inside the picture”.  Thus, virtually all her works are public, revealing our unlimited powers of transformation – from changing degraded identities of service workers, to the restoration of ravaged landscapes, to individual and urban re-birth via water and fire rituals.  Working for decades on 3 closed landfills, she is presently concentrating on Fresh Kills in NYC, as well as Danehy Park in Cambridge, and the Ayalon Park in Israel.  She has completed 6 work ballets with workers, trucks, barges, and hundred of tons of recyclables: in NYC, Pittsburgh, France, Holland, and Tokamachi City, Japan.  The Artist In Residence in the NYC Department of Sanitation for 29 years, she is represented by Ronald Feldman Gallery, NYC.

 

Illustration: PENETRATION AND TRANSPARENCY MORPHED, 2001-2002, with Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra, Detail of Fresh Kills Drainage System, production still from a six-channel video installation, from Phase I Reconnaissance, Percent for Art Artist of Fresh Kills, New York City Department of Sanitation, Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.